Labor set to deregulate higher education

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Education Minister Julia Gillard recently announced Federal Government plans to further deregulate the Australian University sector. Gillard was acting on recommendations coming out of the Bradley review into higher education.

Under the changes, which are planned to come into effect in 2012, Government funding of university places would be based on ‘demand’ as opposed to the Government allocating funds for the provision of specific courses. The bottom line is that we will see a cut in courses and jobs.

The consequences of such a system will have a two-fold effect on the university sector. Funds will be primarily channeled into courses that the private sector promotes as being ‘popular’ (in reality profitable). Courses such as law in the prestigious ‘sandstone’ universities will do well at the expense of courses which are not seen to be as profitable to industry.

This will cause a glut of certain types of graduates in the workforce. A reduction of students in certain courses will lead to some class sizes increasing and the subsequent driving down the over-all quality of the education system. This needs to be opposed.

Deregulation will also cause less funding to go to smaller regional universities and campuses. This will lead to the demise of many minor courses and subject streams already put under great pressure due to the neglect of consecutive Liberal and Labor governments.

Even Gillard acknowledges the massive risk the government is taking. She has assured people that a national regulatory agency will be set up to try and ensure that regional campuses are not left to far behind. However, with little to no detail provided by the Education Minister it is hard to see exactly what this body will be able to do. Considering that very little is known about the deregulation process, there is no chance of knowing how badly regional universities will be effected.

The reality is that all instances of deregulation that have occurred in the past, whether it be in the telecommunications or energy sector, have resulted in the lowering of services and an increase in cost to the end user. There is no reason to believe that the further deregulation of higher education will be any different.

The Federal Labor Government’s policy of deregulation is simply a move towards the further privatisation and commercialisation of education. The only real solution to the problems that face higher education in Australia is to stop treating students as human capital. Private industry should not dictate how universities are run.

Universities should be run by students and university staff in the interests of the entire community not to increase the profits of a few. As long as profits are put before student needs the same mistakes of the past will be repeated. Far from being an ‘education revolution’ Gillard’s plans can more accurately described as an education counter revolution.

By Tony Mason